The US Fish and Wildlife Service informed some hunters last month that it would allow six trophy elephants to be imported into the United States from Zimbabwe. The African elephant carcasses will be the first allowed into the country in five years.
The decision reverses an agency-wide suspension on the processing of elephant trophy import permits that was put in place under the Trump administration in November 2017, and has since prevented the introduction of tusks , tails or feet of elephants in the country.
The reversal is the result of a September 2021 settlement with the Dallas Safari Club, a big game hunting organization that sued the Trump administration in December 2019 for suspending processing of trophy permits. Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism was also a civil party in the case. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under the settlement to process the licenses of the 11 hunters named in the lawsuit, along with 73 other pending license applications. This could potentially lead to the introduction of additional trophies into the United States from countries that allow limited hunting of elephants for sport.
According to a spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service, the two parties “have negotiated a settlement which they believe to be in the public interest and a fair, just, adequate and equitable resolution of the differences set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaint.”
The service’s decision to settle the lawsuit continues a long-running dispute between hunters and biodiversity experts over whether trophy hunting is beneficial or harmful to big game species, especially endangered animals. of extinction like the two species of African elephants. It has also drawn criticism from activists and biodiversity groups who question why the agency has not fought the lawsuit or reinstated a similar ban that was instituted under the Obama administration.
They point out that the move goes against President Biden’s campaign pledge to limit hunting imports. Critics also say it’s the latest in a series of baffling moves by the Biden administration to acquiesce to lawsuits left behind by the Trump administration and a failure to invest in more protections under the Cash Act. endangered, such as the conservation of more gray wolves. They argue that these actions show that Mr. Biden has not kept his word on environmental priorities.
“We expected the Biden administration to shut everything down, carefully consider and make tough decisions that maybe this is not something we should be doing given the biodiversity crisis,” Tanya Sanerib said. , senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “So for the reality to be the exact opposite of that, it feels like a whiplash.”
For trophy hunters and big game groups, the reversal came as a long-delayed victory.
“It’s a victory for conservation because in many of these places where elephants reside, habitat is only made available through money from hunting,” said Lane Easter, 57, an equine veterinarian at the Texas whose trophy license was approved as part of the settlement for a Zimbabwe hunt he made in 2017.
The majority of trophy hunters come from the United States. Under federal endangered species law, hunters must prove before importing a trophy that killing the animal contributed to the “positive improvement” of a species.
The view of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which predates Mr. Biden’s election, is that trophy hunting can be considered species enhancement if it is “legal and well-regulated hunting within the framework of a strong management program,” the agency spokesperson said.
Big game hunters say the money they spend on hunting is then invested in rehabilitating the species and economically benefiting nearby communities, preventing poaching. They also say that hunting certain animals like elephants and lions can benefit the overall health of the herd.
Hunters can spend up to $40,000 on an African hunt in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia, and many secure the rights through bidding wars staged at national conferences like the convention. Annual Safari Club International.
But groups like Humane Society International say hunting a species does not benefit its survival and that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not allow paid hunts to be considered a method of species improvement, especially on animals that the United States considers endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2021 revised its list of the two African elephant species to highlight that both are at higher risk of extinction.
Critics also say there is little evidence that money paid for a hunt ultimately helps the species recover, especially when corruption has proven to be endemic in several of the countries where African elephants reside. .
“There is no evidence that trophy hunting advances the conservation of any species,” said Teresa Telecky, zoologist and vice president of wildlife at the Humane Society International.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, big game hunters expected it to be easier to import elephant trophies. The week before Thanksgiving in 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed an Obama-era ban allowing hunters to import trophy elephants from several African countries. The news sparked a storm of disapproval and criticism, with even loyal allies of Mr. Trump warning that the move could increase the “horrible poaching of elephants.”
Just 24 hours later, Mr Trump tweeted that he would put the decision on “hold”. After this tweet, not a single elephant trophy has been approved for import into the United States.
“Because the president found trophy hunting distasteful, he basically repealed the law with a tweet,” said George Lyon, the attorney representing the Dallas Safari Club, “and that’s not how the process administration is supposed to take place”.
So far, the wildlife service said it has processed eight permits. In addition to the six he authorized, he refused two, and he should decide in the coming months on others. Mr Lyon estimated that as of last September nearly 300 elephant trophy permits from various African countries were awaiting processing.
Mr Easter says he is wasting no time in celebrating his legal victory. His elephant’s tusks are already being prepared for shipment to his home in Texas.
“They are going to hang in the living room of my house, and I will remember this elephant for the rest of my life,” he said.
He has another trophy hunt in Africa booked for August.